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"Red feathers & the 'Fighting 40th' at Germantown" Topic

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10 Sep 2021 7:08 a.m. PST
by Editor in Chief Bill

  • Changed title from "Rred feathers & the 'Fighting 40th' at Germantown" to "Red feathers & the 'Fighting 40th' at Germantown"Removed from 18th Century Discussion board

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42flanker10 Sep 2021 7:07 a.m. PST

I have been intrigued by della Gatta's representation of the 40th Regiment at Germantown, as to whether the battalion men shown outside Chew's house at Cliveden are wearing red feathers in their hats. They certainly look a rusty kind of brown. Their officers definitely sport a pair of red and white feathers

This is particularly intriguing in the light of a claim, familiar in other contexts, made for the 'Fighting Fortieth' by what is known today as the Lancashire Infantry museum – and echoed almost word for word in the 'Regimental Handbook of the Duke of Lancaster's Regiment' formed in 2006 from the various Lancashire regiments amalgamated down the years since 1881, including the 40th (1st Bn P.O.W. South Lancs):

"And Regimental tradition has it that the Americans were so upset by their defeat at Germantown that they vowed vengeance upon the men who had beaten them so soundly, and they tried to find out which regiment it was. On hearing this, the men of the Light Company of the 40th dipped their white cockades, or hackles, in cock's blood and invited the Americans to look out for the men with the red hackles. This was apparently the origin of the red patch worn behind the cap badge of The South Lancashire Regiment, successors to the 40th Foot, – and has, more recently, been adopted by The Duke of Lancaster's Regiment."

Several pinches of salt required here perhaps. Good for blood stains. But are those red feathers in the hats of Musgrave's men as depicted by della Gatta?

Major Bloodnok11 Sep 2021 6:53 a.m. PST

Funny. I have read the same thing, almost word for word, regarding the British units that were at Paoli. Dipping "white cockades" in blood? Does this mean the 40th were Jacobites? There is also an account of General Eisenhower going to a meeting, in the Caribbean, with the British in 1942[?]. He was met by an honour guard of British soldiers who were all wearing a red hackle. When asked about the hackle the response was "Paoli"

Personal logo John the OFM Supporting Member of TMP11 Sep 2021 8:52 a.m. PST

Yes. I thought it had more to do with Paoli too.
Perhaps Germantown was considered more honourable than Paoli? grin

42flanker11 Sep 2021 3:20 p.m. PST

I am fairly sure the post-Germantown tale is a confection dating from the C20th, if not later. There's no evidence of it from earlier. As with many of these 'traditions,' the object precedes the folkore. In this case the Paoli tale appears to have been co-opted to explain the red badge backing of the Duke of Lancaster's Regt. This has also been associated with an episode, fairly trivial, dating to the service of the 82nd P.O.W. Vols (subsq 2nd Bn South Lancs) in the Peninsula.

A number of regiments have borrowed from 46th South Devonshire regiment's tale of Paoli Tavern and the Red Feather, which emerged in the 1830s but was not set down in print until 1851, although a similar tale in garbled form was recorded in 1822 relating to the 71st Highlanders (disbanded in 1783) and seems to have been circulating as early as the turn of the C18th century.

All of the versions attach to regiments whose light coys formed part of Maitland's 2nd Light Infantry in 1776-78 including the 40th (although their tale deals with the battalion men at the Chew House). It is possible that the 2nd Light Infantry battalion were in fact wearing red feathers even before the Philadelphia campaign began, and 'the defiant red feather' story emerged as a more interesting explanation of their hat ornament.

The Caribbean tale rings a bell (After all, the DCLI (32nd & 46th) last wore a Red Feather on the Wolseley sun helmets)- though I think it might have been a little later and in Bermuda where the 1st Bn DCLI arrived in 1953, the same year that Eisenhower was elected president. Although officially the Wolseley helmet had been abolished and the DCLI Red Feather emblem was reduced to a badge backing, the may have retained the helmet in the tropical posting, so that guards of honour might continue to sport the Red Feather.

I heard a nice tale in that regard of a young American boy who met a party of DCLI in Bermuda and was told the "Pawli" story and he surprised them by telling them he had grown up at Chadd's Ford on Brandywine Creek. He was given a cap badge as a souvenir which he took with him as a lucky charm when he was posted to Vietnam.

Personal logo John the OFM Supporting Member of TMP11 Sep 2021 3:28 p.m. PST

Yeah. There an awful lot of "traditions" on both sides of the AWI that first emerge 50 years after the end of the war. >>COUGH COUGH<< Betsy Ross. >>COUGH COUGH<<
Or Timothy Murphy.
Or the Bedford Minutemen flag, Guilford Courthouse flag…

Personal logo enfant perdus Supporting Member of TMP11 Sep 2021 4:21 p.m. PST

42flanker beat me to the punch. Like the Minden Roses, it's one of those things that was enthusiastically researched by the relevant Regiments only to end in heaps of disappointment.

I personally like to think it started when some recruit asked "why do we wear red feathers?" and a quick thinking old sweat extemporized the story without missing a beat.

42flanker12 Sep 2021 12:57 a.m. PST

Molly Pitcher, anybody?

'Old sweats' Yes, and evidently regiments do like to 'borrow.' For years I revered the story I'd been told by our cadet corps' RSM, a former KRRC man("60th Royal Americans") to explain the scarlet patch behind his old regiment's Maltese Cross cap badge.

"On the frontier, when we beat the Injuns, we took their feathers and dipped 'em in the BLOOD- then stuck 'em in our hats. So they'd know who to come to for REVENGE!"

Later in life, I started studying the French & Indian war period, and eventually came upon the battle of Bushy Run during Pontiac's War- which the 60th claimed as a key moment in regimental history. There was no mention of feathers red or otherwise. How could that be? By then I'd worked out that dipping feathers in wet blood is only going to produce a sticky, smelly, brown mess and concluded that bit was probably folklore but that the 60th had must have sported a red plume of sorts to make the point.

Then, researching my forbear's service in the AWI, I came upon the Paoli Tavern tale (He'd finished as a Captain in the 46th) and I thought, "Well, that can't be a coincidence."

I contacted the Royal Greenjackets HQ and learned to my regret that the RSM had died only recently. The Colonel who answered my letter had never heard the bloody feathers story. "It's just one of those Sergeants Mess tales," he explained.

Later I learned that only about 16 men of the 60th were in Bouquet's column at Bushy Run and most of them were sick. However, the Black Watch were also there, forming the bulk of Bouquet's force. My neighbour was convinced that the Red Hackle emblem of the Black Watch came from feathers stained in the blood of battle.

He's not alone. Where might that have been? At Alexandria 1801? That was a common belief for years- even among officers. Or at some point during the AWI- Paoli Tavern, perhaps? After all they were there, too, 'clearing through the position after the 'Bloodhounds' had 'dashed in.' There were other legends but the likely truth turns out to have been a little less dramatic- so it is hardly mentioned. Nothing to do with blood or even battle.

So it goes.

42flanker12 Sep 2021 1:08 a.m. PST

P.S. What's that about the Minden Roses? Surely not!

Brechtel198 Supporting Member of TMP12 Sep 2021 3:55 a.m. PST

What I believe is a long-endured wrong is that no British regiments have any battle honors for the War of the Revolution. That just isn't right. Excellent conduct should be rewarded.

A uniform book that came out in the late 80s/early 90s actually skipped the War of the Revolution. British infantry uniforms for that period would have been very useful.

Personal logo enfant perdus Supporting Member of TMP12 Sep 2021 9:09 a.m. PST

P.S. What's that about the Minden Roses? Surely not!

I'm afraid so. IIRC there are multiple faults with the story, the principle ones being an absence of wild roses at Minden and no hedges either.

What I believe is a long-endured wrong is that no British regiments have any battle honors for the War of the Revolution.

No battle honours for anything that is considered an internal or civil conflict. That is why there are also no honours for the battles against the Jacobites, the various Canadian rebellions, the Easter Rising, etc. The Royal Navy had no such qualms of course, as there have been four HMS Cullodens and four HMS Boynes named after the battle.

Brechtel198 Supporting Member of TMP12 Sep 2021 9:30 a.m. PST

But the War of the American Revolution turned into a world-wide struggle with the entry of France, Spain, and Holland.

Personal logo enfant perdus Supporting Member of TMP12 Sep 2021 10:09 a.m. PST

True, but it's still part of what was considered a rebellion or civil war. Conversely, one could argue that the Irish Rebellion of 1798 was part of the larger war against Revolutionary France, but despite the presence of French troops, no battle honours are recognized for that either.

42flanker12 Sep 2021 12:22 p.m. PST

It's worth remembering that the system of honorary distinctions that today we recognise as 'battle honours' did not exist at that time. there were only a couple of random unit distinctions and, unique for the time, the recognition of the four regiments most involved with the defence of Gibraltar during the 'Great Siege' of 1779-83, a gesture undoubtedly influenced by the recent debâcle in America.

All other distinctions relating to the C18th that exist today were granted retrospectively, often as result of lobbying. I am not sure at what point it was "rightly decreed that battle honours should not be granted for a war with our kith and kin," as one Black Watch historian put it, but it might explain the number of distinctive emblems that date from that period, associated with certain actions, but which were not honorary distinctions in fact. Some, after gaining official recognition, gradually acquired the status of 'battle honours' that regimental tradition claimed had been 'awarded' for the actions in question, not least the Red Feather of the 46th, but also the white 'St Lucia' feather of the 5th, which survives today as the red-tipped hackle of the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers.

The red Paoli distinction of the DCLI (32nd & 46th) and the 'Brandywine flash' of the Royal Berkshires (49th & 66th) survived successive amalgamations until the re-organisations of 2006, when, not being true honorary distinctions, both were finally extinguished during the process of absorption into a homogenised super-regiment, 'The Rifles.

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